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Published Sep. 2, 2005

PUBLIC AWARENESS campaigns urging women to get regular screenings for breast cancer may not always state a woman's actual risk for the disease.

Age is key: Breast cancer most frequently strikes women older than 40, and risk increases with age.

According to Today's Tomorrows, a publication of the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute, women 50 to 60 have a 1-in-27 chance of developing breast cancer. Women 40 to 50 have a 1-in-68 chance; those 30 to 40 have a 1-in-252 chance.

The statistics, from the National Cancer Institute, are based on cancer rates from 1997 to 1999.

Early detection, experts agree, is key to survival. The American Cancer Society recommends a physical examination of the breasts and a mammogram every year for women 40 and older. Younger women need the exams once every three years. By her 20s, a woman should be performing monthly self-exams as well.

EMERGENCY PHYSICIANS were recently asked whether their hospital emergency rooms are equipped to handle a surge of patients caused by an epidemic or act of terrorism.

Most said no _ their ERs are too crowded.

The survey this fall of more than 900 physicians in 48 states found that over half believe the primary problem is a lack of inpatient staff and beds. That means patients are "boarded" in the emergency department, reducing capacity for true medical emergencies. More than 64 percent said patients wait from four to 12 hours for inpatient beds to become available.

Another factor is a shortage of on-call specialists. The worst shortages are for neurologists, plastic surgeons and orthopedists.

_ Staff writer SUSAN ASCHOFF and Times wires